The benefits of gender balance in the workplace are well known. Yet while advances are being made to address current imbalances, leadership positions are still disproportionately occupied by men, especially in the finance sector. According to an IMF report, only 2 per cent of women serve as CEOs in the global banking sector and women hold less than 20 per cent of bank board seats in 80 per cent of the cases studied.1 The social impact of this gap notwithstanding, it also carries a massive economic opportunity cost: with one report concluding that global annual GDP could increase by as much as USD12 trillion by 2025 if countries around the world achieve gender parity.2
A combination of technology, education and sustained collaboration is the solution to bring about real change, concluded a panel titled ‘Facing the Future’ at the Bloomberg Equality Summit, held on 15 October in Mumbai. Co-sponsored by Standard Chartered, the event was the first of its kind in Asia.
Turning to technology
Technology’s transformative nature offers significant opportunities to not only close the gender disparity in the workforce but also help women, especially in emerging markets, become financially independent and empowered.
In agreement with this view, the panellists also examined how the democratisation of access to the internet and social media tools are helping to promote diversity and create a more equal and inclusive society.
“From e-commerce to digital banking, the opportunities offered by technology and digitisation to drive financial inclusion have never been greater,” said Heidi Toribio, the Global Head of Financial Institutions at Standard Chartered.
Indeed, the proliferation of video apps, thanks to the growing affordability of broadband, is allowing women to acquire skills online while crowdfunding sites are helping female entrepreneurs to raise funds to finance their business, the panellists pointed out.
“Technology gives a real chance for women to participate in entrepreneurship,” said Bloomberg technology reporter Saritha Rai, while noting that challenges persist in the form of access to talent, market and funding.
Heidi Toribio noted that access to capital is key before pointing to two company initiatives that are helping young women with these challenges.
While Standard Chartered’s Women’s World Banking programme helps women micro-entrepreneurs take advantage of the opportunities presented by the rise of digitisation and the advent of new technologies, the ‘Women in Technology’ initiative assists young female entrepreneurs by mentoring and educating them about building a technology business, Ms Toribio noted.
Empowering by education
Truly, education is key when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion.
In recognition of the power of education to drive inclusion and address the many challenges women and girls face, Standard Chartered operates ‘Goal’, a community engagement programme, in over 20 countries. The programme imparts financial education and life skills to girls from low-income urban families to help them build a career and take on leadership roles in their communities.
The panel also highlighted the urgent need for women to be educated in the area of technology and play a greater role in the sector by presenting two sobering data points: The global economic impact of artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to reach USD15 trillion by 2030 but women make up only 22 per cent of AI professionals worldwide.
Collaboration is key
Clearly, major changes are required worldwide to address gender disparity and it’s a fundamental responsibility of companies and society to bring about change and set the balance right. But how do we go about changing the status quo?
The answer is collaboration, the audience heard with the panellists unanimously voting for this approach as the way ahead in promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace and around the world.
And, events like the Bloomberg Equality Summit are crucial in spreading awareness, learning from each other’s experiences and sharing ideas, noted Heidi Toribio, “The more that we collectively drive initiatives and collaborate in this space, the faster we'll see changes.”
Click here to learn more about the Bloomberg Equality Summit.